V-Chip for Computers Is Proposed

The Internet continues to enjoy the highest constitutional freedoms.

Numerous attempts to censor online material, even for the sake of protecting minors from exposure to indecent material, have repeatedly been struck down by the Supreme Court.

But parents are increasingly concerned about what their kids can access on the Web, and legislators continue to seek ways to put limits on what kids can see.

"Some form of regulation is needed because some stuff just shouldn't be out there," said Anna Manokoune, a 33-year-old Garden Grove, Calif., mother of five girls ages 6 to 14.

In response to such concerns, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., introduced the Child Safe Viewing Act in February. The bill mandates that the Federal Communications Commission continuously review and implement the most cutting-edge technologies that can help parents censor audio and video material their kids see over the Internet.

"It's an uphill battle for parents trying to protect their kids from viewing inappropriate programming," Pryor said. "Today's technology to protect children from indecency goes above and beyond the capabilities of the V-Chip. And with over 500 channels and video streaming, parents could use a little help. The time for the FCC to act on behalf of our children is now. My legislation will make sure that happens."

The bill was passed unanimously this month by the Senate Commerce Committee and currently awaits debate on the Senate floor. Pryor is confident that the bill will eventually become law, according to a Senate aide.

As part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Congress required that manufacturers embed a V-Chip within televisions to let parents screen the programs their children were watching according to a rating system.

However, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation national survey revealed that 57 percent of parents weren't even aware that they had a V-Chip. Some critics believe that developing a form of V-Chip for computers might prove useless because parents didn't even use it when it was in their televisions.

'V-Chip Is a Failure'

"The V-Chip is a failure," said Leslie Harris, CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology. "Ten years after the V-Chip, there's no innovation. The FCC has no experience with the Internet. We're very concerned that that this is the first step towards mandated technology for TV and Internet."

She insists that handing over an inquiry into the latest censoring technologies for parents to the FCC is a conflict of interest.

"If Congress wants to inform itself of what new technology there is, they should ask a neutral party to do this. Not one with an interest in regulation," she said. "[The bill] is a big step back for openness, innovation and freedom, which is the hallmark of the Internet."

Joan Irvine, executive director of the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection, says the Child Safe Viewing Act is repetitive because many blocking and filtering technologies are already available.

"I don't see this bill being effective because everything in the bill has already been done," she said.

She also warns against the unrealistic expectation that the FCC can find and implement blocking technology that will eliminate all inappropriate material from minors' computers, TVs, cell phones and portable media devices.

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